Can Bulgarian Split Squats Replace Squats?

bulgarian split squat
August 19, 2022 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “can bulgarian split squats replace squats?”. I will consider many factors and summarise my final thoughts at the end.

The bulgarian split squat is a fantastic single leg exercise which can build serious leg size and strength over time when performed consistently. 

>> Read my article on the benefits of bulgarian split squats here.

Can Bulgarian Split Squats Replace Squats?

Bulgarian split squat can replace squats in many circumstances. If your goal is to build size and strength in your lower body without putting too much stress on your spine then split squats are great. 

Bulgarian split squats are also very beneficial for athletes and they can use this exercise safely to replace squats. However, if you are a serious powerlifter then you must perform squats in your training. For these people, bulgarian split squats could never replace squats.

What Are Your Goals?

One of the most important things to consider when answering this question pertains to your goals. As I mentioned, if you are a powerlifter or serious strength athlete then there is simply no way that you can replace real squats in your training.

Squatting with a barbell is one of the best lower body exercises due to the sheer muscle mass that is employed. There is also no limit when it comes to adding more weight to the bar. Just by performing this one exercise long term with progressive overload you can build a brutally strong lower body.

If you are a general athlete then bulgarian split squats are the perfect replacement for squats. There is a significant correlation between maximal strength in the bulgarian split squat and the 5 and 20m sprint [1].

Likewise, if you are just focused on aesthetics and don’t care too much about becoming brutally strong on the barbell squat then bulgarian split squats are the perfect choice for you. These also are a lot easier on your back – if you have lower back issues split squats are a better option.

Individual Anthropometry Considerations 

Individual anthropometry has to be considered as well. If you are very tall with a short torso and long femurs then you don’t have the ideal build for barbell squats. Of course you can still do them, but a shorter person with shorter femurs will be far better suited to squatting.

In these cases it may be better from a longevity point of view to replace squats with bulgarian split squats. This way the movement pattern will feel better and you will get a lot of the benefits in terms of building up lower body size and strength. 

There is a good article by The Barbell Physio on how squat anthropometry affects your squat technique. You can read it here

Better Balance And Strength On One Leg

The bulgarian split squat is a very good exercise in addressing strength imbalances between legs. When barbell squatting often people can favour one leg slightly more than another.

The split squat helps you to equalise your strength in both legs so that you are a lot more stable overall. You will also benefit from improved balance which is why the bulgarian split squat lends itself so well to athletic endeavours. 

It is incredibly important in everyday life to be able to generate power off one leg. If you can get strong at bulgarian split squats and do them regularly, you will find that you will “bulletproof” your lower body to some extent.

How Heavy Can You Progress The Bulgarian Split Squat?

How heavy you can load the bulgarian split squat is a very interesting question. The reality is you can’t load the bulgarian split squat ridiculously heavy without increasing the injury risk quite a bit.

The bulgarian split squat uses the hip musculature heavily. When you are on one leg and applying force with lots of weight in your hands or on your back, there is a risk of an adductor strain or even tear.

The adductors are more at risk of straining with heavy loads when your front foot is further away from the bench behind you.

bulgarian split squat

The Views Of Pete Rubish

Pete Rubish, who is a well known powerlifter and one of the strongest deadlifters in the world pound for pound at one stage, has very good things to say about the bulgarian split squat. 

He believes that it is the best alternative to back squats for the vast majority of people. He echoes my sentiments on this topic exactly. He also explains that if you go super heavy on bulgarian split squats there is a risk of straining your adductors. 

Pete did exactly that in this video where he had 405lbs on his back and was doing split squats. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to go this crazy in terms of weight unless you have lots of experience and elite level strength. 

Final Thoughts

In closing I am now going to answer again whether I think that bulgarian split squats can replace squats. For many athletes I would say they are a perfect replacement. 

If your goal is to improve aesthetics and you aren’t concerned about being able to squat super human weights then they can be a good replacement as well. 

However if you are a strength athlete or powerlifter you simply cannot replace the squat. It is one of the big three movements that you must train. 

For people with back injuries I would certainly say that bulgarian split squats should be used in place of normal squats. They are far safer on your back, however don’t go ridiculously heavy on them.

Therefore, the answer depends on the circumstances and goals of the individual. There is no one size fits all cookie cutter answer to this question. This is because there are many variables that have to be considered. 

If you have any questions on this topic please leave them in the comments. I would love to find out your thoughts on this topic and whether you perform bulgarian split squats currently. 



[1] Brorsson, S., Olsson, M. C., Bengtsson, O., & Petersson, J. (2010). Maximal strength in one leg squat correlates with acceleration capacity and agility. Presented at the Nordic conference 2010, Interdisciplinary perspectives on health, participation and effects of sport and exercise, 28-30 October 2010, Odense, Denmark.

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